By David Gill
NEW YORK–New technology and sustainability have established strong footholds in the basic-bedding business, as can be seen from the new-product launches slated for this week at the February Home Textiles Market.
In some respects, these trends are joined at the hip. “The trends continue to be technology-based products that lend themselves to comfort,” said Beth Mack, chief merchandising officer for Hollander Home Fashions. “Technology can come in the form of environmental advances that create better sleep as well as new fiber introductions, stain treatments and constructions.”
One example is Hollander’s new Obusforme brand, which is tied to Obusforme Sleep Therapy Products, a manufacturer of orthopedic and personal care items. The line includes mattress pads, fiberbeds and comforters. Also part of this movement is the company’s expansion of its Live Comfortably, Live Green assortment, which uses a non-bleached down-alternative fill made of recycled fiber. The NextLife line of eco-friendly products combines recycled fiber with non-dyed, non-bleached fabrics ranging from 200 to 400 thread-count.
The high-tech entry for United Feather & Down this market is its expansion of the SilverFill X-Static collection, which will now include a Personal Comfort pillow line and mattress pads. Silver fiber is growing in basic bedding as an anti-odor and anti-microbial element.
“X-Static is a proprietary process where they take the nylon core and coat it with 99.9 percent pure silver,” said Bob Hickman, senior vice president of sales and marketing for United Feather. “Others use encapsulated silver, but in order for silver to work, it has to make contact with the outside, which is what our process allows it to do.”
On the eco-friendly front, Louisville Bedding Co. is preparing a broad range of product launches in pillows, mattress pads, down-alternative comforters and pillow protectors under its Eco-Smart brand.
“The products will feature cotton, soybean and bamboo,” said Mandy Talbert, product development manager for Louisville Bedding, “with regenerated polyester fillings and innovative packaging, including recyclable polyethylene and vinyl bags as well as canvas and cotton with lead-free zippers and dyed trimmings.”
In the introductions from Downlite, “green and eco-friendly bedding solutions” and “performance and ‘smart’ fabrics” will be the featured players, said Stefan Hunter, the company’s marketing director. Hunter also said Downlite’s February market introduction will answer “consumer needs for larger comforters, deeper-pocket mattress pads and machine-washable pillows.”
Along with a spate of introductions in all of its product categories, Pacific Coast Feather will unveil two strategies for its retail customers to create excitement in their basic-bedding areas. The first is the In/Out Pillow Promotion, which encompasses a printed display shipper that holds inventory, a support poster and a retailer 40-second video loop that demonstrates product features and benefits.
The second involves pillow-merchandising systems that are designed to ease consumers’ search for the right pillow that will improve their sleep. These systems include guiding signage, which graphically presents pillow design features and differences; enhanced display pillows, which use colors and cutaways to show internal pillow design elements; and packaging and inventory elements that explain pillow style specifications and features by using graphic illustrations.
The February market will also include the entry of a new player in the basic-bedding market. Last year, Welspun announced the launch of its basic-bedding division, which will present its first products in bed pillows, comforters, mattress pads, blankets and quilts this week. Last month, the company announced the hiring of Scott Walters, formerly Louisville Bedding’s national merchandise manager, as the new division’s director of sales.
With all the new products, technologies, environmentally friendly innovations and other bells and whistles to be seen this week, basic-bedding manufacturer executives acknowledge that 2008 will be a challenging year for the industry as a whole. Business factors from a number of different directions will make an already highly competitive market even tougher to navigate.
“Our biggest challenge in 2008 is pricing,” Hollander’s Mack said. “Rising costs from China [currency change, labor-rate upcharges], rising transportation and container costs, huge increases in fiberfill all point their fingers toward manufacturer price increases.”
Louisville Bedding’s Talbert also focused on the weak U.S. dollar. “We anticipate that 2008 will be a flat year, in part due to the uncertainty of our currency in the world market,” she said. “The decline of the dollar versus other currencies continues to put pressure on the retailers and vendors—all of us.” The answer, Talbert added, is to “continue to be innovative, listen to consumers’ wants and needs, and bring these ideas to market, all the while adding value of the product.”
Downlite’s Hunter zeroed in on the crunch in the housing market.
“You hear it in the news daily, and businesses in the housing market are feeling the strain,” Hunter said. “As home values dwindle, it will be increasingly important to educate our consumers how to nest in their current home.”
To United Feather’s Hickman, the economy as a whole will be the key influence on the industry. “I positively think we’re in a recession already,” he said. “When [economic analysts] look back, they’ll see that the indicators for both December and January will reflect that.”
All is not gloomy, however. “I think it will be a mild recession,” Hickman added. “Housing will work itself out as builders stop building new homes. Also, the utility-bedding business can sometimes buck a slow economy, because when people don’t have money for cars or homes or major consumer electronics, they may resort to purchases that make their home lives more comfortable. They feel good in a bad economy to make a purchase like a pillow or a comforter.”